Education = Good Debt

Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

Photo: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sterling Jeffrey, a data network specialist assigned to Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38, reads “First to Fight: an inside view of the U.S. Marine Corps,” at the library on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Feb. 27, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps file photo by Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller/Released)

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sterling Jeffrey, a data network specialist assigned to Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38, reads “First to Fight: an inside view of the U.S. Marine Corps,” at the library on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Feb. 27, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps file photo by Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller/Released)

There’s a lot of talk about financial fitness and how to keep oneself on solid ground these days, due in large part to the fiscal challenges our economy and government have faced in recent years.

Amongst the myriad of advice available in our communities and online, discussions about debt frequently surface detailing the impact debt can have on your life. While it’s become common knowledge that too much or the wrong kind of debt can lead you to financial ruin, it’s also important to highlight the fact that not all debt is created equal nor is all of it bad. The right kind of debt can actually enhance your overall financial portfolio and help you come out ahead in the long run.

I recently sat down with Barbara Thompson, Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth director, to talk about the type of debt that would benefit service members and their families.

“There is debt that, in the long term, provides a better return on investment. We recognize that investing in your education is an investment in your future, because people who have higher education usually have a higher earnings potential as well as less unemployment. Whether it’s for yourself as the service member or one of your family members, it’s really important to think about what student loan would be the best fit for you and how much debt should you incur,” she said.

Analyzing your overall return on investment and researching the earning potential of your chosen career field are necessary steps to take before committing to a specific loan, Ms. Thompson notes. MilitaryOneSource is a great resource for researching careers and learning about different types of financial assistance that may be available to you. She also recommends seeking advice from installation education office and financial counselors to help you weigh the pros and cons of different student loan and college options.

“Debt is something that takes on a life of its own, so you want to make sure that you’re weighing those pros and cons and you are investing in the correct loan and you’re choosing the right college. I think part of the issue is how expensive a college may be and is it a for-profit school or a not-for-profit school,” she said.

She encourages potential students to evaluate the total cost of their college experience – tuition plus books, room, board and other fees – and consider the cost of the total investment. She recommends that service members and their spouses consider doing part of their course of study at a community college when possible to defray the overall costs that some four year institutions can incur.

Ms. Thompson also encourages service member students to maximize their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, other scholarship opportunities and loan forgiveness programs for high-demand careers. She also points out that in the case of many advanced degree options, employers may be willing to contribute to your education. “This is a major investment in yourself and is one we want [you] to take very seriously, [so you] make the right choice.”

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